INTERVIEW: Catalyst continues the “Uncovered” series with Florence B. Price’s album
Image courtesy of Catalyst String Quartet / Provided by Crossover Media with permission.
The Catalyst String Quartet is working on a multi-year project that brings awareness to black composers, some of whom have been underrecorded in the annals of classical music, according to press notes. The vast project is called Discovered, and Vol. 2 focus on Florence B. Price. The recording features the quartet alongside piano work by Michelle Cann.
For those unfamiliar with the Grammy-winning Catalyst String Quartet, the group consists of Karla Donehew Perez on violin, Abi Fayette on violin, Paul Laraia on viola, and Karlos Rodriguez on cello. They brought Price’s work to life in unique and interesting ways. On the recording, listeners will enjoy four string quartets (three of which are world premieres) and two piano quintets (one of which is a world premiere), according to a press release. The album follows Vol. 1, which featured music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Spoiler alert for Catalyst fans: Three composers have been selected for the upcoming Vol. 3.
“We started planning for the project in 2018, but it was really something that had been in the works for many years before,” Donehew Perez said in a recent phone interview. “We teach a summer program through the Sphinx organization called Sphinx Performance Academy, and the program is for Latinx string players ages 12-17. It’s intensive chamber music, and our teachers, we not only try to give them concerts of the standard repertoire – Beethoven, Brahms, Hayden, Mozart’s string quartets – but we also think it’s important to bring works by colored musicians. And so, after many years of hearing our colleagues perform these works, and telling us well, this is a great play, and this is a great play, and why isn’t this one being performed, and why don’t people play these, they’re so awesome, we kind of decided we had to record these works.
The quartet faced several challenges during the recording process. For starters, there are virtually no quality recordings of some of these compositions. This was alarming to the musicians of Catalyst, and they felt the desire to right this historic wrong. However, they also had to rely solely on the composer’s notes rather than interpretations by other musicians.
“What we wanted to do was take all of these works and put them in one place,” she said. “So, under the aegis of the Sheltered project, you may think I want to know more about Florence Price and her music, but then you’ll say, “Hey, check out Vol. 1. Check out Vol. 3-4”, and check out all of these other really amazing works as well. »
Among the composers Catalyst players have selected for the Sheltered project, Price’s music is the most under-recorded. The fact that there are four world premieres on this album is proof enough that Price’s music was not widely released or recorded.
“Price faced extreme odds in his life; however, his songwriting output is vast despite the many barriers placed in his way,” the Catalyst musicians said in a press release. “Her experience as a black woman displaced because of Jim Crow’s deep southern racism; a wife and mother fleeing an abusive husband; a prodigious organ student at the New England Conservatory; and as an important contributor to the great Chicago Renaissance between 1935 and 1950, where she associated with such icons as Langston Hughes, Marion Anderson and Margaret Bonds; shaping his oeuvre while authentically contributing to American music in its depth and beauty. The works on this album are a powerful reminder that America’s classic romantic vernacular, as prophesied by Dvorak, owes a great deal to the voices that history has neglected and suppressed.
The Catalyst String Quartet, with his permission, may have used Price’s manuscripts from the University of Arkansas. “His music is not yet fully printed, and much of it is poorly printed with lots of errors,” the violinist said. “So that’s another aspect of the project that people don’t realize is that we had to do a lot of work to figure out what the actual music is supposed to be.”
Donehew Perez added, “Obviously she had a lot of traditional influences, but her sources are spirituals and popular songs. And she also has a very unique writing style, very unique emotional content. … We find inspiration in the vocal tradition because there is a much longer recorded vocal tradition of spirituals and plantation songs than there is in instrumental music, and so we have We were first really inspired by that and got a sense of what life was like for Florence Price at that time. What was she listening to? Who was she with?
Now, today’s audiences who may have never heard of Price can once again appreciate his compositional works.
By John Soltes / Editor / [email protected]
Flight. 2: Florence B. Price is now available from the Catalyst String Quartet on Azica Records. Click on here for more information.